The Key to Fear (The Key #1) by Kristin Cast #bookreview #YA #dystopian

To Health.
To Life.
To the Future.

We are The Key.
‘No touching today for a healthy tomorrow.’

Elodie obeys The Key. Elodie obeys the rules. Elodie trusts in the system. At least, Elodie used to…

Aidan is a rebel. Aidan doesn’t do what he’s told. Aidan just wants to be free. Aidan is on his last chance…

After a pandemic wiped out most of the human race, The Key took power. The Key dictates the rules. They govern in order to keep people safe. But as Elodie and Aidan begin to discover there is another side to The Key, they realise not everything is as it seems.

Rather than playing protector, The Key are playing God.

Reading a book about a pandemic wiping out most of the human race may not be everyone’s cup of tea right now, but the blurb hooked me right away.

What would the world look like if touching was forbidden?  The world-building is impressive, and it’s obvious the author put a lot of time into creating it.  Everything from personal pods to procreation techniques is covered.  Citizens don’t date – they’re matched by The Key based on compatible genetics and given jobs determined by assessment tests.  Everything is sterile and impersonal – free choice is practically nonexistent.  What I missed was more information on how the pandemic came about and when and how The Key came into power.  A little more backstory would have filled in some blanks.

I liked that conformist Elodie and rebellious Aiden are polar opposities – the rule follower and the rule challenger.  Early on, it’s clear that Elodie doesn’t exactly obey all the rules, and I liked that about her.  It didn’t come as such a shock when she began questioning things.  The insta-love between them really wasn’t necessary for the plot – I think the story would have worked fine without it, but that’s just my opinion.

Pacing was an issue for me as not a lot happens in the first half of the story.  Around the 80% mark, things take off to the point that the ending feels rushed, but it’s a good place for the next book to begin.

If you’re in the mood for a dystopian set post-pandemic, The Key to Fear is a timely read with well-developed characters.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Grinders by C.S. Boyack #bookreview #cyberpunk #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

Jimi Cabot made one mistake as a starving college student. When she went to work for the San Francisco Police Department, it nearly cost her the job. The union stepped in and they had to reinstate her. They did so by assigning her to the duty nobody wants, Grinder Squad.

Grinders are people who use back room surgeries to enhance their bodies with computer chips, and various kinds of hardware. Jimi is sure that if she can just bust one grind shop, it will be her ticket back.

Paired with veteran cop, she soon learns that Grinder Squad is a cash-cow for the department. They are nothing more than glorified patrol cops, and generally get the worst assignments.

Matchless is the most wanted grinder of all time. He disappeared years ago, leaving only the evidence of those he enhanced during his career. With these pieces, Jimi picks up the cold trail to try working her way back to more respectable duty.

Grinders is a cyberpunk story set in a world where global warming has eroded coastlines, and society has solved many of our current problems by replacing them with new ones. There are cyber shut-ins, cyber-currency skimming schemes, and more in this futuristic tale.

This book also takes the opportunity to poke a stick at current issues that seem to have lasted into the future. Entitled people, helicopter moms, overzealous homeowner associations, and lack of decent jobs are all present. Never preachy, these issues make up the day to day work of a patrol officer.

I’ve mentioned this in reviews of Boyack’s books before, but his imagination is astounding.  Grinders is full of wildly creative world-building and yet, some of the creations aren’t so far-fetched and are entirely plausible in the not-too-distant future (although I could live just fine without the holobarkers – I’m not a fan of commercials/advertisements).

The rotating POVs helped me see this story from all angles, and despite Nootropic’s illegal activities, I felt for the guy.  His heart’s in the right place, but it took me a while to figure out the deal with his rats.  I enjoyed the cast of diverse characters, but my favorite had to be Lou, Jimi’s gruff veteran partner.  I loved their working relationship and how they learned certain ‘lessons’ from each other.  Shout out to AI cat Cole who gave me several laughs.

Grinders is vividly colorful and full of futuristic elements and technology sure to thrill sci-fi/cyberpunk fans.

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe #2) by Neal Shusterman #bookreview #YA #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

The first book in this series, Scythe, floored me.  Twists and turns I never saw coming, and it was one of my top reads that year.  I bought Thunderhead the day it was released, and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read it.

With power struggles, devious plans, and the internal thoughts of the Thunderhead, I found it difficult to put this book down.  Rowan and Citra continue to be strong, intelligent protagonists and each encounters many obstacles – in Rowan’s case, pretty painful obstacles.  As with Scythe, just when I thought I had something figured out – wrong again.  And that ending!  With my mouth hanging open and nearly in a state of shock over the last 15-20% of the book, nothing could have torn me away from it.

This is a series I’d recommend to all fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian readers, YA fans or not.  Since The Toll is already out, I’m just glad I don’t have to wait long before diving back into this world again.

The Nemesis (Diabolic #3) by S.J. Kincaid #bookreview #YA #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

In the heart-pounding conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Diabolic series, the Empire teeters on the edge of destruction as rumors spread that Nemesis is still alive.

Three years ago, Tyrus Domitrian shocked the galaxy by killing the woman he swore to love forever. The woman for whom he upended the Empire. The woman with whom he wanted to build a new and brighter future.

Now, the once-idealistic heir apparent has become the cruel Emperor Tyrus, wielding his authority with an iron fist, capable of destroying planets with a single word, controlling all technology with a simple thought. He has bent the Grandiloquy to their knees, and none has the power to stand against him.

But there is a muttering among the Excess. They say that Nemesis is not truly gone. They whisper of her shadow spotted in distant star systems. They say that Nemesis lives. That she will rise, and rally the people to topple the man who was once her truest love—and is now her fiercest enemy.

I waited almost three long years after finishing the second book in this series, The Empress, which nearly destroyed me.  To say I was thrilled upon receiving an ARC of The Nemesis doesn’t even begin to touch my level of excitement.

I’m a voracious reader, and it’s rare I’m surprised by plot twists, but this series is full of them.  Surprises that ripped my heart out, made me want to throw the book across the room, and even kill the characters at some points.  For me, that’s the sign of a crafty, clever writer, and a big reason why Diabolic will always be one of my favorite YA sci-fi series.

Nemesis’s character arc has been fascinating to watch as she learns to believe she’s more than just a killer created in a lab.  Her strong bond with Anguish, a fellow Diabolic, is one of my favorite aspects of this story.  As much as I love her, Tyrus has always been the draw for me.  No matter your intelligence, he’ll always be ten steps ahead of you and can out-strategize anyone.  He’s delightfully wicked in this final novel and has an abundance of thought-provoking ideas in that head of his.  Both he and Nemesis are pushed to their breaking points, so be prepared for some nail-biting moments.

It takes a few chapters to find its stride, but the author delivers an intricately plotted, thrilling story loaded with political maneuvering – and a perfect ending in my opinion.  This is a series I’ll absolutely go back and read again.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

 

Lies and Legacy (Project Gene Assist #3) by Allie Potts #bookreview #scifi #cyberpunk #TuesdayBookBlog

It’s time to finish what they started.

Juliane’s woken to a post-apocalyptic world with no memory of the days leading up to her time in cryogenic suspension. Plagued by guilt, Stephen longs to sleep without being haunted by the faces of those he’s lost. Both are seeking more than answers.

Meanwhile, the defeat of the Watch has created an opportunity for a new world order to step in and take power. On one side, are the Sorcerers, a group of super-humans whose telepathic-like abilities and control over their bodies comes at a terrible price. On the other–an elite squad of genetically modified individuals who are now more beast than man.

Juliane is on a mission to reclaim her legacy.

Stephen is out to save his soul.

Can either stop the upcoming war before it destroys what’s left of humankind? In this struggle for survival of the fittest, they may have to find a way to save themselves first. 

Over two years have passed since I read book two of this series, so I was a little lost in the first few chapters while trying to remember the characters and their relationships to each other.  Once I finished the book, I discovered a character list that would have helped immensely.  Readers – it pays to scan the table of contents first and save yourself some confusion.

Being fascinated by genetic engineering, I’ve enjoyed the premise of this series from the first book.  With a big cliffhanger at the end of book two, I was anxious to see what became of this world and these characters.  With most of them separated, the rotating POVs allowed me to see each of their journeys – especially Stephen’s.  In book two, he’s a naive teen aching for adventure who gets more than he bargains for and learns some unsettling truths about himself.  Although still a somewhat awkward teen, a lot is riding on him, and he’s put into some difficult positions.  His character arc is one of my favorite things about this series.  Juliane’s journey is no less compelling – she’s truly on a mission to set things right.  Another character’s actions surprised me a bit, and I doubted his motivations, but it works for the story.  This is a fitting ending to this story.

With a fascinating premise, creative world-building, and well-drawn characters, this is a series I’d recommend to sci-fi cyberpunk fans.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Chosen Ones (The Chosen Ones #1) by Veronica Roth #bookreview #fantasy #dystopian

A decade ago near Chicago, five teenagers defeated the otherworldly enemy known as the Dark One, whose reign of terror brought widespread destruction and death. The seemingly un-extraordinary teens—Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther—had been brought together by a clandestine government agency because one of them was fated to be the “Chosen One,” prophesized to save the world. With the goal achieved, humankind celebrated the victors and began to mourn their lost loved ones.

Ten years later, though the champions remain celebrities, the world has moved forward and a whole, younger generation doesn’t seem to recall the days of endless fear. But Sloane remembers. It’s impossible for her to forget when the paparazzi haunt her every step just as the Dark One still haunts her dreams. Unlike everyone else, she hasn’t moved on; she’s adrift—no direction, no goals, no purpose. On the eve of the Ten Year Celebration of Peace, a new trauma hits the Chosen: the death of one of their own. And when they gather for the funeral at the enshrined site of their triumph, they discover to their horror that the Dark One’s reign never really ended.

I’m a fan of Roth’s Divergent series – loved it.  When I saw she’d written an adult book, I was intrigued.  After reading the description, I knew I wanted to read it.

Taking into account the premise of this book – the fantasy aspects, magic, chosen ones, sci-fi elements – I should have loved everything about it.  The descriptive writing flows, and I’ve always enjoyed the author’s style.  I was on board with the different settings, the struggles the characters endured after what they’d been through and how they were still dealing with depression and PTSD.  Some plot twists also came as a surprise.

But I struggled to get through this novel, and I think the biggest obstacles for me were pacing and Sloane being the primary focus.  With pacing, I kept feeling like I was on the verge of something big happening, but then it slowed again.  This happened several times.  I never connected with Sloane, but that connection isn’t always a requirement for me.  Her backstory is tragic, and she’s suffered too many losses, but she exhausted me, if that makes sense.  Mox is probably my favorite character and has an amazing backstory.

While this one wasn’t for me, I’m still glad I read The Chosen Ones and wouldn’t hesitate to pick up Roth’s next series.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Aurora Burning (The Aurora Cycle #2) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff #bookreview #YA #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

Our heroes are back… kind of. From the bestselling co-authors of the Illuminae Files comes the second book in the epic series about a squad of misfits, losers, and discipline cases who just might be the galaxy’s best hope for survival.

First, the bad news: an ancient evil—you know, your standard consume-all-life-in-the-galaxy deal—is about to be unleashed. The good news? Squad 312 is standing by to save the day. They’ve just got to take care of a few small distractions first.

Like the clan of gremps who’d like to rearrange their favorite faces.

And the cadre of illegit GIA agents with creepy flowers where their eyes used to be, who’ll stop at nothing to get their hands on Auri.

Then there’s Kal’s long-lost sister, who’s not exactly happy to see her baby brother, and has a Syldrathi army at her back. With half the known galaxy on their tails, Squad 312 has never felt so wanted.

When they learn the Hadfield has been found, it’s time to come out of hiding. Two centuries ago, the colony ship vanished, leaving Auri as its sole survivor. Now, its black box might be what saves them. But time is short, and if Auri can’t learn to master her powers as a Trigger, the squad and all their admirers are going to be deader than the Great Ultrasaur of Abraaxis IV.

Shocking revelations, bank heists, mysterious gifts, inappropriately tight bodysuits, and an epic firefight will determine the fate of the Aurora Legion’s most unforgettable heroes—and maybe the rest of the galaxy as well.

Pardon the gasping of air you may hear – I’m still hyperventilating over that ending.  I’m pretty sure I’m not emotionally equipped to wait a year for the next book!

An exceptional first novel in a series (which Aurora Rising absolutely is) sets the mark pretty high for the second.  Sometimes that goal is achieved, but more often that not it isn’t.  In this case, Aurora Burning exceeded both the mark and my expectations.  Tyler and his diverse crew of found family are still comical, loveable, and awkward and find themselves in heart-pounding, life-threatening situations.  And I do mean that in the pleural sense.  These guys attract trouble like a magnet.

Talk about shocking revelations – they run amuck, and those unusual gifts the squad receive left me scratching my head.  Some of their purposes come to light, while others remain a mystery.  Between the unveiling of secrets and the dangerous situations, I ran through the gamut of emotions.  And I feel compelled to mention that ending again – I’m not okay.

If you’re a sci-fi fan, I can’t recommend this series enough.  Squad 312 will steal your heart and take you on a rollercoaster of an adventure.  And those covers – just gorgeous.

 

One If by Carol B. Allen #bookreview #YA #fantasy #STEM

ONE DYING PLANET. TWO WORLDS AT WAR.

THREE TEENS FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL.

Parker Kittridge, a quirky science student from New York City, is abducted by a spirit guide and taken to Spyridon, a dying planet on the brink of war. Parker quickly discovers she is not alone. Two other teens have also been kidnapped. They must join forces if they have any chance to return to Earth.

Spyridon, ravaged by climate change, is in deep trouble. Only two kingdoms remain: an avian Upperworld and a piscine Underworld. Parker and her friends are charged with finding solutions for the planet’s survival, as well as their own, or the teens will never escape in time. They must discover how to live and collaborate with the extraterrestrial beings.

The on-going war between the worlds is fierce: murders, deceptions, power struggles, and love triangles make this a high-stakes, futuristic, coming-of-age adventure pitted against a race with time.

Before I get into the review, I’d like to comment on this stunning cover.  The designer did an exceptional job, and it works well with the story.

I’ve always been a fan of books that advocate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), especially for girls, and this author is donating a percentage of sales for this book to organizations that promote the advancement of women in STEM and protect the environment.  And that’s something else I admire about this book – it brings environmental issues to the forefront.

Parker is a science nerd, and I loved her for that.  Besides being highly intelligent and taller than most girls, she’s socially awkward and doesn’t make friends easily.  It’s only after being transported to the bizarre and creatively imagined world of Spyridon that she seems to find her place, and her self-confidence and self-esteem increase as a result.  Her courage in agreeing to help the people of this planet with little to no information about what they need or why she was chosen is questionable, but admirable.

While the three teens are likable (well, maybe not mean girl Henley much of the time), they felt generic, and I would have liked to see more character depth.  I missed understanding why they made certain decisions or took the risk to stay on a strange planet with unfamiliar creatures and help them.  Their voices are also similar, making it hard to distinguish between them.

The end moves pretty quickly with plenty of action and a plot twist, and the cliffhander ending sets up the story perfectly for a sequel.  Partly a coming of age story for Parker, the sequel should give her an opportunity to make a difference in the world of Spyridon.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

TRUEL1F3 (LIF3L1KE #3) by Jay Kristoff #bookreview #YA #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

Best friends have become enemies. Lovers have become strangers. And deciding whose side you’re on could be the difference between life and death. For Eve and Lemon, discovering the truth about themselves–and each other–was too much for their friendship to take. But with the country on the brink of a new world war–this time between the BioMaas swarm at CityHive and Daedalus’s army at Megopolis, loyalties will be pushed to the brink, unlikely alliances will form and with them, betrayals. But the threat doesn’t stop there, because the lifelikes are determined to access the program that will set every robot free, a task requiring both Eve and Ana, the girl she was created to replace. In the end, violent clashes and heartbreaking choices reveal the true heroes . . . and they may not be who you think they are.

With it’s gritty, Mad Max-like world and highly charismatic characters (Lemon Fresh is so brilliful!), this has become one of my favorite YA sci-fi series.  In this final book, I was excited, yet hesitant to read it because I was afraid of what Kristoff might do to some of my favorite characters.  In several scenes, I nearly halfway covered my eyes.

Since it’s been about a year between books, I really appreciated the recap at the beginning of this novel.  It’s kind of hard to review the final book of a series without spoilers, so this will be brief.  Emotions were all over the map with this one – heart-gushing moments followed by roller coaster plunges into wildly intense action for pages.  Epic battles, cruel blindsides, devious villains with world-ending plans – I wondered if my heart could take it.  The ending satisfied me, with the exception of the fate of one character.  My feelings for this character remained conflicted for most of the series, and I’m not sure they got what they deserved.  So I guess it makes sense that I’ll probably remain undecided.

Still, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this intense, complex series with fabulous characters.  It’s one I’d highly recommend to sci-fi fans.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Take Me With You by Tara Altebrando #bookreview #YA #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

Eden, Eli, Marwan, and Ilanka barely know each other beyond having a class or two together. But when they are all summoned via messaging app to an empty classroom after school, they find a small cube sitting on a desk. Its sides light up with rules for them:

Do not tell anyone about the device. Never leave the device unattended.
And then, Take me with you . . . or else.

At first they think it’s some kind of prank or a social experiment orchestrated by the school administration. Still, they follow its instructions until the newly-formed group starts to splinter. Nobody has time for these games–their lives are complicated enough. But the device seems increasingly invested in the private details of their lives. And disobeying its rules has scary–even life-threatening–consequences . . . 

This is my third book by this author, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them.

Several reviewers mentioned they were under the impression this was more of a mystery/thriller, but it’s absolutely a sci-fi/thriller – totally my kind of book.  I flew through it in two days.  These four, very relatable teen characters have distinctive personalities, and each is coping with their own complicated problems.  They come from diverse backgrounds and situations, so why they’re thrown together is a mystery to them.  The way they learn in such a short time to depend on each other and offer support was a strong point for me.

And the device!  It’s multi-faceted, and over the course of the story is mysterious, helpful, intrusive, and insidious.  I can’t say much more without giving away spoilers, but my need to know what was going on made it a struggle to close this book.  Although the reveal is satisfying and even jarring, I did feel as if the problems the characters faced in their personal lives were wrapped up with a pretty large bow at the end, but I seem to be in the minority on that opinion.

This is a completely engaging read with unnerving sci-fi aspects and one I recommend.  I’ll be looking for more books by this author in the future.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.